Almanac Sport: Footy Clubs and Community – The International Day of People with Disabilities 

Call me old; call me stupid; or call me cynical (I can tick all of those boxes some days) but I had no idea my local football club was a thriving hub 12 months of the year – beyond game days and the conventional footy season.

 

I’ve been following professional footy – AFL and SANFL as a kid – for over 50 years.  But it’s only in the last couple of years through my nephew playing for Swan Districts in the WAFL that I’ve connected with community footy.

 

Still it’s March to September right? Watch the league game and have a couple of beers in the clubrooms after.  This year we even went to watch the Colts in the finals when we have no personal connection. The games were great, but it was their team mates who didn’t make the final 22 that impressed me most. Sitting next to them in the stands, they were funny, passionate and respectful when my younger self would have been bitter and twisted at not getting a game.

 

Now that I’m a member the club keeps sending me emails and newsletters about all these other things they’re doing.  Women’s footy – what’s the matter with netball? Wheelchair footy – don’t they have wheelchair basketball in the Olympics?  Why does footy have to colonise other sports?

 

Today is International Day of People with Disabilities.  And Swan Districts are having a community breakfast with an aspiring Paralympian, Mark Daniels. Sounds interesting and a good opportunity to check out if all this community connection stuff the newsletters talk about is real or window dressing (like the AFL clubs PR spin).

 

The first thing the MC tells us is that the guest speaker can’t be here because he had to go to an urgent AIS training camp on the Gold Coast.  (Well this is a waste of a morning).  But there is a video that Mark sent yesterday instead.  His core message is below – but updated to tell us that he is now training for the Paris 2024 Paralympics as a canoeist; is a qualified fitness trainer specialising in adaptive strength; and is riding his motor bike again!

 

The brutal honesty of Mark’s talk was overpowering. Even talking about feeling suicidal in hospital and trying to pull out all the tubes until a nurse (Higher Power incognito) found him.  

 

There were 80 people at the breakfast of all ages and walks of life – I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who felt like running through brick walls after hearing Mark talk.

 

But even better followed with 6 members of the Swan Districts wheelchair footy team telling a little of their story.  Two had cerebral palsy; one experienced a stroke at 17 that leaves him with mobility issues; and another has a congenital problem that resulted in weakened femurs and becoming the youngest recipient of a hip replacement in WA. 

 

Each was funny, humble and supportive. Their love of their team mates, sport and the opportunities that the club had given them shone out.  They made the Grand Final a few weeks ago (footy in November – who knew?) but lost to Mark’s team Subiaco.  Each knew what an achievement it had been to get there.

 

But in a strange way it was the two able bodied members of the team who told me most about what the team, the sport and the club was about.  We all crave human connection in a society isolated by celebrity images, money and social media.  Belonging and engagement are crucial to all of us – with or without physical disabilities.  As a friend used to say “everybody’s pretty normal until you get to know them better”.

 

And sport comes with the added benefit of physical activity and all its’ bonuses of positive endorphins and general fitness. 

 

The breakfast made me a believer in local football clubs as an inclusive, year round community hub.  We all want to be a part of something bigger and football clubs are the biggest sports in most communities.  Growing the club into other areas makes perfect sense so long as we compete with – not against – other sports.

 

Do yourself a favour. 

 

You can read more from Peter Baulderstone Here.

 

 

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Comments

  1. Peter Crossing says

    Thanks for this story Peter. Well done Swan Districts.

  2. Daryl Schramm says

    Enjoyed the read PB. There is so much happening around sport and folk who are differently abled. The community sporting clubs and their leaders and members have been extremely important institutions over the years. Long may it continue.

  3. Brilliant PB, sport and disability is something close to my heart, thank you for writing about your experience in WA.

    I’m very much on board with growing the pie and extending the value of our bricks and mortar institutions like footy clubs into a greater public good through engagement like this.

  4. There is an ‘Integrated’ Aussie Rules competition in WA for people with various impairments that is running strong. Coolbinia Falcons were just displaced as Premiers this season after dominating the past 6 years or so.

    The Central Crocs vets side in Bayswater/Bassendean play them each year as a pre-season friendly.

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